Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Benny Hill

This is funny. It makes me laugh. It’s unusual that comedy this old still makes me laugh. But Benny Hill had a lot of fun with nothing less than the experience of being human, and that doesn’t change all that much.

This in English – that dry British humour – and it predates Monty Python by about a decade, though Benny Hill followed Monty Python’s popularity to North American TV. He is here because he had a few records actually make the UK top 20. I don’t remember where I got this, but it’s called Golden Hour Of Benny Hill

Benny Hill:

The Harvest Of Love – From the summer of 1963.
Gypsy Rock
Piccolo Song
Pepy’s Diary – From the winter of 1961
Transistor Radio
Lonely Boy - Not the Paul Anka song.
Bamba 3688
Gather In The Mushrooms – The flip side of Pepy’s Diary, also made the top 20.
Moving On Again
The Andalusian Gypsies
The Egg Marketing Board Tango
The Old Fiddler
Golden Days
Flying South
My Garden Of Love
I’ll Never Know
Wild Women
Jose’s Cantina
Those Days
What A World

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Ben E. King

Ben E King

The Drifters hits on which Ben E. King sang lead were sublime. The best known and most popular was Save The Last Dance For Me, but that’s not my favourite. I am partial to If You Cry (True True Love), Dance With Me, and especially This Magic Moment. The emphasis was always on pure romance.

As a solo artist, the emphasis shifted to melodrama. I don’t know whose idea that was, but King often sounded like he was on the edge of a breakdown of some kind, like any little thing could tip the balance and send him over the edge.

He did ok for a few years, put 5 hits into the top 30 in the three years from 1961 to 1963. Altogether he put 19 records into the top 100 by 1967, and he had two more in 1975, including Supernatural Thing, Part I in 1975, which reached number 5 on Billboard though I never heard it on the radio. This collection is Tears Tears Tears which comes from a K-Tel album, and Ben E. King’s Greatest Hits.

Ben E King:

Tears, Tears, Tears – They say that men cry differently from women, owing to physiological differences, something to do with tear ducts. They also say that men don’t cry, which isn’t true obviously, but has truth in it. For all that, there are enough men who sing about crying. From the spring of 1967. I have a cover by Winnipeg group The Fifth.
That’s When It Hurts – Pain, that’s what so much of this is about. From the spring of 1964.
Auf Wiedersehen, My Dear – King sounds ridiculous singing this German phrase. This should have stayed in the can.
Around The Corner – A song about being left out. Remember The Green Door? Same idea.
Young Boy Blues – Mose Allison did Young Man Blues. It’s all whining. From the fall of 1961.
What Now My Love – King doesn’t do to badly with this chestnut. Didn’t make the charts though, in that regard he left it to Sonny & Cher, and Mitch Ryder, and Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass.
Stand By Me – His signature song, and not surprisingly his highest placing single. On the surface the song is about loyalty, but there is an undercurrent of co-dependency, I need you to fill in the blanks of my life (and yes I know the difference between dependence and co-dependency). And to keep things interesting, at the end he turns the whole thing on its head – “whenever you’re in trouble,” he sings, “won’t you stand by me.” That stop-start crescendo arrangement, though, and the raw emotion of the vocal, gave the song lasting appeal. As the theme song of the movie, though, it was woefully misplaced. The movie was about friendship, the song is an ode to romantic entanglement. Covered by so many, I can think of Wilbert Harrison; it was a small hit for Earl Grant and a bigger one for Spyder Turner, and it was John Lennon’s last hit before his recording hiatus that lasted from 1975 until 1980. From the summer of 1961.
Amor – This song of swirling romance put King into the top 20 in the fall of 1961, but it was nothing like the touching fantasy of his Drifters days.
Don’t Play That Song (You Lied) – Failed romance is always so much fun, and here is Ben E waxing indignant about the disingenuousness of his erstwhile partner. The association of a pop song with a specific partner is also a common theme. Who can forget Olivia Newton-John, Please Mr. Please, “don’t play B-17.” Yikes. From the summer of 1962. Covered by Aretha in 1970.
I (Who Have Nothing) – Self effacement writ large. True, he doesn’t say “I who am nothing” but he might as well; tradition teaches that the poor man is like the dead man. Ben, listen, you’ll never win her heart that way. This piece of over-the-top melodrama was a hit of sorts for Terry Knight & The Pack (Terry would go on to produce the early Grand Funk Railroad albums), and later for Tom Jones, who won the chart sweepstakes on this one. A hit for King in the summer of 1963.
I Could Have Danced All Night – Danced, huh? I have a better version of this by Rosemary Clooney. From the fall of 1963.
Spanish Harlem – His first solo hit, co-written by Phil Spector. A suitably restrained performance of a song about overcoming the odds. Aretha covered this too, in 1971. From the winter of 1961.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Andy Stewart

The streets of downtown Winnipeg form a north-south east-west grid. That’s not unusual. The streets north of downtown, all the way up to the north end, right across the CP yards, also form a grid, but the direction varies from the downtown streets; the east-west streets point more north-west – south east, with the north –south streets at right angles. The street at the south edge of the north grid is called Notre Dame (always pronounced English – “noder dame”). As Notre Dame heads south east into downtown it meets a street called Donald and that’s where the street convergence takes place.

And right at the odd angled corner of Donald and Notre Dame is where Pyramid Records first made its home in the early 80s. It was a used record shop, very organized at the beginning. If you brought them a blues album, you’d get credit in the blues section; likewise with jazz, country etc. They didn’t keep that up. But back then it had the freshness of a new business, even some new Rhino stock now and then.

They moved a few times, first down the street on Donald closer to Ellice, then up into the exchange district, then, for a long time, they had a location on the south side of Portage Avenue, and I’d often stop in there on the way home from work, easy because it was on my bus route, right where I’d switch to the 18. They had books too by then, and magazines, though the owner, whose name was Don, refused to carry adult magazines.

Used record stores started springing up all over the city then; there was Argy’s, Red River Books and Rainbow’s Gold, Comic World, Sound Exchange. But Pyramid was the hub, the centre, the standard by which the others were measured. It was a kind of a home there, amid the dust and the chaos, a place to chat with Don or with Ken, who took care of the books. There was constant inventory turnover; prices were good, and he’d always give you good value for your trade-ins. He even sent me a client once - a Canada Post employee whose pottery adorned Pyramid's display window.

Did I say inventory? It was unbelievable what oddities turned up in his store; you’d wait long enough, you’d find anything. It was listening to Andy Stewart that inspired this diversion, and that was typical; nothing was too odd or too strange or too obscure. I picked up everything from Paul McCartney to classical symphonies by Shostakovitch to Chava Alberstein. Don the owner looked at the Andy Stewart LP as I handed it to him and he started singing “Let the wind blow high let the wind blow low”…. I like when he breaks into the Elvis routine, he said.

Last time I was there was the last day of November, 1993. He’d moved again, this time he was in a little shop across from the Marlborough Hotel on Smith. He was selling out, everything 75% off. I can’t do this anymore, he said. The taxes are too high, the rent is too high, the shop doesn’t pay for itself anymore. It was sad of course, but he wanted to sell off his inventory and pay off his creditors. Alas, he didn’t get the chance. I went back, but the door was locked, the landlord having exercised his right of distress for unpaid rent. The date of the notice was November 30, 1993.

Now Andy Stewart, he was Scottish. That’s obvious. He wore it on his sleeve. He sang about it. He hosted a TV show about it. And he put 2 records on the charts. Oddly, neither made the UK top 20, though they made Billboard (as high as 69) and the Toronto CHUM charts, where they did very well indeed. All but two of these songs come from a collection that I picked up at Pyramid Records. The two (Galawa’ Hills and Morag O’Donegan) came from 2 sides of a single that I got at Red River Books.

Andy Stewart:

A Scottish Soldier – This one actually reached number 69 on Billboard in the summer of 1961. On CHUM it was number 1. It is nothing more than the tale of homesickness, and how, when you are far from home, the familiar can be harder to endure than the unfamiliar. I don’t know that the fact that he is a soldier is all that significant, except perhaps to remind us that the Scotsman can fight as well as anyone.
Oh What A Ceilidh – Pronounced “kaylee,” a kind of party, the Scottish equivalent, perhaps, of a hoe down.
Galawa’ Hills
Morag O’Donegan – Love song to a nice Scottish girl.
Soldier Boy – Not The Shirelles song.
Two Lands – The other one is Canada, believe it or not, and he sings of the connection between the two places. Maybe things were different 50 years ago.
Scotland Yes
Highland Paradise
Campbelltown Loch – Plays on the alleged love of the Scotsman for, what else, scotch. Apparently this is a real place.
Tunes Of Glory
Dr. Findlay – A TV show character.
Donald Where’s Your Troosers – Some wear turbans and some wear kafiahs and some wear shtreimels and some wear robes. The Scotsman wears a kilt, and, if Andy Stewart is to be believed, he’s damn proud of it. The fact that this song is the biggest send-up you’re likely to hear does not diminish the pride of it one whit. The song reached number 77 on Billboard in the fall of ’61. The Irish Rovers gave it a good shot, too.
The Tartan Ribbon

Friday, June 17, 2011

Lawrence Welk

“Why don’t you just go home and listen to Lawrence Welk?” That was the best way to insult someone’s taste in music. Lawrence Welk, the textbook definition of “square.”

He had that show on every Saturday night. I never sat down to watch it, but it would be playing in the background – “Wunnerful,” and “and now, the Lennon Sisters.” Turns out, though, that not only did Welk have 19 top 100 singles between 1956 and 1965, one of them even went to number 1. This album, which is called Greatest Hits, was released on Quality Records in the 80s in Canada, licensed from Dot, and does a very poor job of representing his hits, including only 2. I don’t know why they didn’t just get a copy of Whitburn…

Lawrence Welk:

Moon River – He couldn’t very well claim to be MOR if he didn’t do Moon River. Harpsichord.
Calcutta – This went to number 1 in the winter of 1961. Not too many people remember, and I don’t know how often it gets played on oldies radio, but number 1 is number 1.
Canadian Sunset – A cover of the Hugo Winterhalter hit.
Love Is Blue – A cover of the Paul Mauriat hit.
Bubbles In The Wine – Lawrence Welk in character.
Last Date – From the winter of 60 / 61. A cover of the Floyd Cramer / Skeeter Davis hit.
Somewhere My Love – A cover of the Ray Conniff Singers hit, which was an adaptation of the theme from Dr. Zhivago.
The Sound Of Music – A cover of the theme from the movie.
Champagne Time

Sunday, June 12, 2011

The Dukes Of Dixieland

carRemember the PT Cruiser? Favourite question, I asked people, would you buy one? I don’t think anyone ever said yes, though they were very popular for a while.

Retro. There’s always a fascination, but for my money, why pay new money for an old looking car. See, it would be glib of me to suggest that if one wants an old-style car, then go buy an old-style car, glib because the cost of an authentic Ford Resto-Rod is prohibitive. Still though, if I’m buying a new car, I want it to look new, style and all.

This is all a lead-up, and a bit of an awkward one, to The Dukes Of Dixieland. They were a jazz band, formed in 1948, whose style harkened back to the early days of jazz, that’s the early 20th century. The Stray Cats did something similar with rockabilly, though Dukestry as they might they couldn’t help but modernize the sound, and Sha Na Na did the same for 50s rock and roll, but at least they had camp going for them. The Dukes reproduce the original Dixieland style note for note, and I don’t see the point, though they had plenty of fans. Seems to me that if you want this, go to Amazon and The Original Dixieland Jazz Band; get the real deal, and it's very affordable.

I got The Best Of The Dukes Of Dixieland, and More Best Of The Dukes Of Dixieland, from Pyramid Records, but I only kept part of the second volume, enough to fill up as much empty space as I needed to fill.


The Dukes Of Dixieland:

South Rampart Street Parade
Wait Till The Sun Shines Nellie
Georgia Camp Meeting
Hot Time In The Old Town Tonight
Muskrat Ramble
When The Saints Go Marching In
Bourbon Street Parade
Eyes Of Texas
Down By The Riverside
Bill Bailey
High Society
Dill Pickles

Monday, June 6, 2011

Kai Winding & J. J. Johnson

Sure there are jazz singers, but we all know that jazz is primarily an instrumental medium. Thing is, though, that if all instruments are equal, then clearly some are more equal than others.

Ok so you have your jazz piano (Art Tatum, Keith Jarrett), and guitar (Joe Pass, Wes Montgomery). It’s not too hard to think of superstar jazz drummers (Buddy Rich, Gene Krupa, Art Blakey). Getting into winds we have the clarinet (Benny Goodman) and flute (Moe Koffman).

But we all know that the real heart of jazz is brass. Let’s face it, a rock band becomes “jazz rock” when they add a horn section. It’s the sax players that own jazz (Charlie Parker, John Coltrane), sax players and trumpeters (Louis Armstrong, Miles Davis).

It’s the trombone, though, that seems to be the bastard child. Sure it’s part of the horn section, (unlike, say, a tuba, which doesn’t make an appearance all that often), but how many soloists do you know? Everyone knows Bix Beiderbecke, I agree. And then?

So here we have not one, but two, trombonists, both of whom had accomplished solo careers, and who decided, as a substantial side project for each of them, to record a number of LPs together. J. J. Johnson was an African American musician interested in bop, and Kai Winding was a white Danish born American who was more mainstream. It is said that an expert jazz fan can tell whose horn is whose; maybe, I sure can't.

I remember that this collection sat in the rack at Pyramid Records forever before it found its way to the top of my priority pile. It didn’t have much background information. But here it is in all its glory.

Kai Winding & J. J. Johnson:

Out Of This World
Thou Swell
Life City
Stolen Bass
It’s All Right With Me
Mad About The Boy
Yes Sir, That’s My Baby
That’s How I Feel About You
Gone Rock

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Hank Snow

Hank Snow It was a few days ago that I had an internet station called Nashville Classics on all day at work. That’s country, and it covers a lot of territory. They play a lot of Hank Williams, Faron Young, Kitty Wells, Merle Haggard, Johnny Cash – stuff that you’d expect on a station called “Nashville Classics.” (And yes they play Buck Owens and Waylon Jennings, notwithstanding their non-Nashville credentials). But then they get into crap like The Gambler by Kenny Rogers, or stuff by Keith Whitley. You gotta take the good with the bad. (Not all the “new” stuff is bad; I heard Tennessee Flat-top Box by Rosanne Cash).

Hank Snow was definitely classic Nashville, notwithstanding his Canadian origins. What I have is The Best Of Hank Snow and The Best Of Hank Snow Vol. II, and it if the stuff on these collections is typical of what he did, and I have no reason to believe that it isn’t, then he was, in a very real sense, the voice of country music itself, singing about truck stops and taverns, non-commitment and dancing, trains and highways, border towns and space travel, and doing so in the voice of the people, as plain-spoken (plain sung?) as one could be, and still be singing. Beautiful stuff.

Hank Snow:

I’m Movin’ On – There are enough country songs about domestic bliss, heaven knows, but here we have the heart of the Nashville universe - “you were flying too high for my little old sky,” - the country hero as the eternal vagabond, running away is always easier than solving problems. And he can’t resist that one last shot - “I’m through with you, too bad you’re blue.” And the way he delivers the verdict, there is no room for emotional or moral ambiguity, he goes straight for the jugular. The song was a number one record on the country chart in 1950, and it was covered by everyone from The Rolling Stones to Elvis Presley to Taste.
The Rhumba Boogie – Nashville Rhumba, amazing. A number one single (country) in 1951.
Let Me Go, Lover! – A huge hit for Joan Weber on the pop charts, and Teresa Brewer put it into the top 10. Their versions were pleading. Hank’s version was defiant. “Let me go, woman!” He spits out. Number 1 country in 1954.
With This Ring I Thee Wed – There you go, domestic bliss, almost. but wait, they only just got married. Let's see where that goes...
Music Makin’ Mama From Memphis – Not the marryin’ kind, for sure. From 1951.
Miller’s Cave – A hit for Bobby Bare in 1964. Hank’s version was a country hit in 1960. A song about murder, jealousy, darkness.
I Don’t Hurt Anymore – Another one of those typical country heartbreak songs, the singer plays the hero, never maudlin, but we know he’s hurting. Number 1 (country) in 1954.
The Golden Rocket – Hank wouldn’t be a country singer if he didn’t sing about trains. This is a song about a train. This was the follow-up to I’m Movin’ On, and it sounds like it. Followed it to number one too.
Bluebird Island – He sings this with Anita Carter. The follow up to The Rhumba Boogie. Uncharacteristically sunny.
I’ve Been Everywhere – In I’m Movin’ On, he was the vagabond, running away from life. Here he’s the eternal traveller, moving around as an expression of personal fulfillment. It’s also a tongue twister. I’ve Been Everywhere was one of two of Hank’s records that made the Billboard hot 100, in the fall of 1962.
(Now And Then) There’s A Fool Such As I – Country singer as loser. A hit for Elvis, and Bob Dylan covered it on Dylan. From 1952.
Ninety Miles An Hour (Down A Dead End Street) – Kitty Wells sang about her “back street affair;” this is Hank’s take. The slow beginning followed by the relentless rhythm captures the emotional temperature perfectly. From 1963. Dylan covered this on Down In The Groove.
Canadian Pacific – Hank finds his roots, and gets to sing about trains in the process.
These Hands – A working man’s lament, tribute to work, love and faith. From 1956.
Duquensne, Pennsylvania – It happened once in my past etc etc. Sigh…
My Way – Yes this is the Frank Sinatra song, lyrics by Paul Anka. It is as legit a reading as any, better than Elvis.
Marriage Vow – This was actually Hank’s first record on the country charts, before even I’m Movin’ On, from 1949. It’s a pretty straightforward wedding song, and it would be maudlin if anyone else sang it.
Hank SnowRockin’ Rollin’ Ocean – It must be the presence of The Anita Kerr Singers on this that made it safe for pop music radio. I don’t know how many top 40 stations actually played this tale of an absent-but-I-hope-she-comes-back-soon love, but some did, because it was the first of two of Hank’s records to get into the top 100. It was at the end of 1960.
The Queen Of Draw Poker Town – Well it wouldn’t be country if it didn’t have gambling. This is from 1965.
Honeymoon On A Rocket Ship – This is from back in 1953, when rocket ships were pretty much in the realm of science fiction. Takes Hank a bit out of his truck / train comfort zone, but he pulls it off.
The Face On The Barroom Floor - … which brings us to the next standard country topic – the hard luck tale.
(The Seashores Of) Old Mexico – Mexico is always a good topic that country writers / singers keep in mind as a standby. Merle Haggard wrote this, and Hank released his version in 1971. It didn’t make the pop charts nor the country charts, but it did reach number 6 on the Canadian country charts.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

You Never Know Who's Listening

Here are 10 of the music links I posted on Facebook during May. It’s a silly thing I do, juvenile, but people seem to like it, more than I would expect. And after a week might go by and don’t get any comments or “likes,” then I think maybe this is pointless, and then I get a message from someone saying I made his day, or I run into a flesh and blood person (yes, they do exist), someone who never posts anything at all, who tells me how much she likes it.

So for now, I’ll keep doing it and hello dolly. You never know who’s listening.

• Van Morrison: Cleaning Windows – Enjoying the smell of fresh baked bread, doing manual labour, and thinking about Jack Kerouac – only Van Morrison could get away with a song about all that. And get away with it he does.
• Cat Stevens: Moon Shadow – I have book called The 50 Worst Rock and Roll Records of All Time by Jimmy Guterman and Owen O’Donnell. Moon Shadow is on the list. Everything they say about the song is 100% correct, and yet they are 100% wrong. Amazing how someone who writes about music could so completely not get it. Meanwhile it’s entirely possible that I actually saw the show whence this video comes, and if I didn’t then I saw one just like it. I was about 13. I love the hippie ambience.
• Jackson Browne: Two Of You, Two Of Me – Jackson Browne can be two-hearts-beating-as-one romantic, and he can heartbreakingly realistic, and he can be both in the same song. And he has dozens of songs like that, and each and every one of them can tear the heart right out of you. This is a post-mortem of a broken relationship, it’s a psychological analysis of how we break ourselves into different characters when life becomes too painful, it’s a cry for understanding, and it hits way too close to home…
• Gordon Lightfoot: Walls – I could go on and on about this one, I could write an entire blog post, several in fact, and I may have done just that, somewhere. Let’s just say that there’s a story behind it, there’s someone I haven’t seen nor heard from in just over 2 years, and the whole thing is about finding out who you really are, behind all the personas. (cue Jackson Browne) Can you say “mid-life crisis?”
• Creedence Clearwater Revival: Green River – I was 12 years old when this song was all over the radio, summer of ’69 it was, and it used to play in my head as I rode my old-fashioned single-speed bicycle over the river trails of Kildonan park. I’m not 12 anymore, but the song hasn’t lost any of its magic for me. That either speaks well of the music, or poorly of me. I’ll take my chances on the music.
• James Taylor: Carolina In My Mind – James Taylor was pure magic for about a year, maybe two. Watch him play this, and a few of the others he does, like Sweet Baby James, Fire And Rain, and (especially) You Can Close Your Eyes, and there is something utterly compelling about him. No wonder so many women fell in love with the guy. He is said to be singing about North Carolina, but the song doesn’t say North Carolina, it just says “Carolina,” so regardless of what Mr. James may have intended, I am free to think of any Carolina I choose, and if I’d rather think of South Carolina, ain’t no one can stop me…
• Santana: Soul Sacrifice – I saw Woodstock (the movie) when I was 14, about a year after it was released. It is glorious. So is the soundtrack, though I’m under no illusion about how closely either may have reflected the actual event. I didn’t get soaked and muddy watching the movie, and there was always a bathroom when I needed one. Still, there are so many highlights – The Who, Sly & the Family Stone, Ten Years After, Sha Na Na (take that! pundits). The greatest of all may be this performance by Santana – not only did “Santana” clearly and unambiguously refer to a band back then, they hadn’t even released their first album when they did this. The intensity of the energy here was enough to carry the whole hippy revolution all on its own.
• Van Morrison: Into The Mystic – Amazing how someone can appear in your life, spin you round in circles (and that’s more literal then you’d think), fade into the background, reappear after 3 months, and go out with a bang (and get your mind out of the gutter, that’s not what I mean). What’s that got to do with the song? Well…
• John Denver with the Chad Mitchell Trio: For Bobbie (For Baby) – Someone once remarked that it would be good if John Denver took an unchill pill. Ha. Still, I am an unrepentant John Denver fan. Oh, I realize that he turned into Barry Manilow at some point, and that he was always a bit of a Pollyanna, but you know, when he was good he was very very good, Pollyanna or no. He originally recorded this song as lead singer of The Mitchell Trio (Chad was gone), and rerecorded it later on Rocky Mountain High. This version, with the harmonies, is a bit corny, but isn’t that what Denver is all about?
• Manfred Mann’s Earth Band: Blinded By The Light – This is just a great performance to watch.
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